A fifth-year or two

Muhlenberg athletes are utilizing extra eligibility.

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Grossman running after the ball. courtesy of Muhlenberg Athletics Department

A common response one may hear when leaving home for college is, “These will be the best years of your life.” The primary goal of attending college is to receive a degree and focus on your academics; however, a lot of students are able to simultaneously use their talents and interests outside of academics to create a very well rounded experience. These experiences usually aid students in their post-graduate successes in more ways than one. 

When the world first started to transition back to in-person school following the pandemic, it was done very cautiously, and extracurriculars were brought back even more slowly. Muhlenberg, specifically, tried very hard to get students back on campus, and were successful for a small group of students in fall 2020. However, the other aspects of being a college student, such as meeting your classmates, getting to know your professors and joining clubs, was done through Zoom. Sports was one obvious extracurricular that Zoom could not provide a platform for, so the Centennial Conference called off play for the fall, winter and spring seasons in 2020, while also giving further eligibility to spring athletes of 2021 given their play was limited. 

For the classes of ‘20 and ‘21 senior athletes, this meant losing what was supposed to be the peak of their career. For class of ‘24 first-year students, this meant losing what would be their very first season, and for the sophomores and juniors, this meant that they would be cut short in-between. However, for each season missed, the athletes gained another season of eligibility. Some athletes who ended up missing two seasons in the overlap of the pandemic, gained even two seasons of eligibility.

In February 2020, Muhlenberg announced the launch of its first master’s programs in applied analytics and organizational leadership. Some students who were planning to seek a masters elsewhere, saw this as an opportunity to instead recieve it at the same place as their undergraduate degree, and, better yet, use their eligibility to also stay on the roster of their designated athletic teams for another year or two. 

Division III All-American honorable mention, first team All-Centennial selection, and one of four current captains of the men’s lacrosse team, Ethan Grossman ‘21, is one athlete who is taking advantage of the two-year masters program and staying put on the men’s lacrosse roster while doing so. He obtained his undergraduate degree in 2021—and having received two additional years of NCAA eligibility he is currently playing in the first of his two post-grad seasons. “I wanted to stay to pursue my masters and also compete to win the Centennial Conference. Being able to play lacrosse for another two years and to compete for a Centennial [Conference] championship has me leaving no regrets.” He continues, “I recommend anyone who gained eligibility play the sport they love for as long as possible.” 

Dual athlete in football and lacrosse and All-Centennial honors recipient, Matt Burke ‘21 is also in the first of his two eligible postgraduate seasons while carrying on his lacrosse career, “The main reason for me wanting to stay at Muhlenberg was the family atmosphere and our lacrosse team’s progression throughout the years that I have been here. If I was to go somewhere else I would have no idea what to expect from the school or athletics program. The graduate program here is very flexible and allows you to have freedom while still being able to focus on schooling and sports,” said Burke. “I am definitely happy with my decision and would recommend it to other athletes. The master’s program and sports here are both excellent. Professors are also very flexible with athletics and are willing to work around any schedule conflicts.”

Margaux Eripret ‘22, forward on the womens’ basketball team, led the Mules and was ranked ninth in the Centennial Conference scoring at least 12.0 points per game during the 2022 season. She was named all-Centennial honorable mention and for two consecutive seasons was also named to the Lehigh Valley Small College Basketball Team of the Year. Although she recently wrapped up her senior season, she did it with the relief that it would not be her last. 

Eripret shares, “I’m really excited that I get to stay at Muhlenberg and use my COVID year for one last season as I will be starting grad school in the fall. Not getting to play my junior season was really difficult and then my coach told me about a new grad program the school was introducing that he thought I should look into. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do; the program [Organizational Leadership] sounds like a good fit for me, and—as an added bonus—I get another season/school year with my friends and one last chance to play for a championship. Because of COVID, I blinked and jumped from a sophomore to a senior, so I wasn’t really ready to be done yet, and I’m really lucky to be able to start my grad classes and last season this fall.”

Several athletes from all types of divisions and conferences have popularly chosen to take their eligibility elsewhere for their next seasons; however, Muhlenberg students seem to be staying put.

Centennial Conference rookie of the year and pre-season All-American Dan Gaines ‘22 has decided to stay for at least one more year, unsure if he will be enrolling in the masters program or not, “I enjoy playing with my teammates and did not want to end my career after a disappointing year and an injury. Also I am comfortable in this environment and feel like I bolster my resume academically on top of basketball. I’d say my goals are to continue to be a leader on the team and hopefully have post season success and win the conference.”

The decision of athletes to continue their fifth year and/or post-grad at Muhlenberg is not only a positive reflection of what the Muhlenberg community has to offer but even more so how committed our students are to representing it passionately. With so much talent returning to athletics, the Mules have a great outlook moving forward- across the board.

Olivia Oberman '24, a neuroscience major and member of the Muhlenberg women's soccer team. She enjoys meeting new people and listening to their stories!

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